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CHAPTER 6. ANALYSIS OF STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, AND THREATS TO WETLANDS
The wetland management strategy must take into account:
Much of the prehistoric wetland system of the Northeast Region is gone, and what remains is under heavy pressure. Despite this, the system itself, and the human and institutional setting, has some key strengths:
Remaining wetlands have substantial value. Several key wetlands of outstanding international and national value still exist; a large number of wetlands of significant national or regional value exist; and there are many sites of significant local value. Local residents, particularly the poor, derive significant benefit from these sites. The key sites support most of what remains of the international flyway and biodiversity at all scales (communities, species, and within species), and harbour several internationally threatened species.
Important representative habitats still exist, some only as remnants, though all have been extensively modified relative to prehistoric conditions (in particular, virtually all of the larger animal species have disappeared).
The tenure situation is uncomplicated. Ownership of the core areas of the key sites, including all perennial water bodies and much adjacent land, rests almost entirely with a single entity -- the Government. Implementation of changes in national wetland management policy, once fully committed to, could be relatively quick and straightforward. There would not be a need for funds to compensate private landowners directly (though other types of compensation could be necessary).
Government development strategies and desirable improvements to wetland management are highly compatible. See Table 5.1.
Some wetland education is already taking place, at various levels within and outside Government. Tentative lines of communication for dialogue on wetlands among various government agencies, national and international non-governmental organizations, donors, and to a much lesser degree local communities, have evolved. Recent policy moves have been in the right direction with the signing of the Ramsar Convention and the other policy statements that are being developed.
Some wetland research and monitoring is already taking place, and some key alliances with the international scientific community are already in place.
Some alliances between national and international NGOs are already in place. National and international NGOs with an interest in wetlands have been active within the country for several years, and have influenced Government, donor, and project planners activities.
The wetlands of the Northeast are vulnerable in many ways. The most important of these are:
Lack of viable protected freshwater wetland areas. Had one or more protected freshwater wetland areas been established (say in the 1870s at the time that the Sundarban Reserve Forest was established), many extinctions could have been avoided and a number of unique ecosystems preserved. This is still the case. Establishment of protected areas now could prevent many future extinctions and ecosystem losses.
Some of the remaining wetland species and habitats are threatened. A number of species and habitats are at critical levels.
Wetland values are not adequately recognized. Also, the current and potential contributions of wetlands to national development objectives, are not understood. Both statements are true at all levels, both inside and outside government.
Information about wetlands is inadequate for good decision-making.
Current institutional arrangements for wetland management are inappropriate. MOL has no interest or expertise in resource management, yet it controls the key wetland core areas. It has been strong enough to retain this control despite the fact that it runs counter to various aspects of the national interest. Agencies (MOEF, MIWDFC, MOFL) who have interest and expertise (if in need of strengthening) in wetland resource management have little power, statutory or real, to influence what happens in the wetlands. These agencies are relatively weak and historically have been reluctant to form alliances due to other conflicts.
Wetland benefits are well below potential levels; little value is added to wetland products. Benefits are less than what they might be because resource management is inappropriate or poorly organized, and does not focus on adding value to wetland products.
The equity distribution of wetland benefits is less progressive than it could be, as a result of inappropriate resource management, specifically, the Land Revenue Tax system.
Over-exploitation. Certain species are being harvested at levels or in ways that are unsustainable (yields are declining even though exploitation effort stays constant or is increasing).
Habitat destruction. Certain habitat types and species dependent on them are gradually being eliminated.
Disturbance (including hunting). Disturbance (including hunting) is reducing usable habitat significantly.
Felling of mature lowland forest trees. Removal of mature trees is replacing coppicing as the harvesting method of choice. Immediate returns are higher, but in longer term returns are lower.
Suppression of natural regeneration of swamp forest trees. Few saplings of swamp forest trees survive due to grazing and fuel collection.
Drainage improvements, flood control works, induced siltation. All of these flood plain manipulations tend to reduce the extent and duration of wetlands.
Traditional management systems are being challenged by powerful interests. Powerful interests threaten to reverse wetland benefits historic equity distribution profile, and appropriate resources traditionally under the control of local communities.
Foster beneficial rural-urban links. Foster linkages between rural user groups and urban/government-based resource scientists and NGOs concerned with wetlands.
Transform and empower poor user groups to become resource managers. Train community-based user groups in basic resource management techniques. Provide legal aid and other support to help them maintain or regain their traditional access and other rights.
Displace demand for heavily exploited and threatened species. Accelerate provision of alternative energy sources to rural areas to reduce pressure on biomass fuel species.
Create employment in wetland primary production enhancement. Develop semi-domesticated farming of high-valued species, especially those with export potential.
Develop enterprises based on value-added wetland products.
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